Security and Safety Issues for Media Workers, part II

Security and Safety Issues for Media Workers, part II

Francis Kohn, director of AFP, talks to photographer William Daniels (center) and World Press Photo Managing Director Michiel Munneke (right), after the Security and Safety Issues for Media Workers discussion. April 2014 © Bas de Meijer / Hollandse Hoogte

Journalists are becoming targets for assault, kidnapping and murder. At the World Press Photo Awards Days in April, Aidan Sullivan of Getty Images hosted a discussion on security and the prevention of danger to media workers. The first article covered the issues discussed. This article will cover prevention.

Sullivan pointed out that in 90 percent of attacks on journalists, the perpetrators met with complete impunity. “If we want to maintain unbiased reporting, we must lobby and use our voice to tackle this impunity,” he said. “We need to find legal and practical ways to help our colleagues, who take risks so that we can hear the truth.” The message should be out there that if you threaten or attack a journalist, you are not going to get away with it. The UN is currently looking at legislation that may do this. “If we can get it to the point where it becomes a war crime to harm journalists working in conflict zones, people may take notice,” Sullivan said.

Discussion also centered on practical measures for ensuring journalists’ safety. Sebastián Aguirre, of the human-rights organization Article 19, said it wasn’t enough simply to do something like issuing journalists with bullet-proof vests. Wearing a helmet or bullet-proof vest could work against the trust that journalists had to build up to do their job well. In some situations, it could even make them targets. Article 19 took a more holistic approach to security, involving pre-assignment training, management and support in the field (media organizations taking more responsibility for journalists), and mitigation (practical support to journalists who had suffered assault, and to their families and colleagues).

Francis Kohn, director of AFP, said it was important for large media organizations to act responsibly. AFP made pre-assignment training mandatory. Working with the French government and private security firms, it gave practical training in working in war and disaster zones, and on how to cope with such dangers as kidnapping. AFP also provided specialized equipment (such as bullet-proof vests that could be worn under normal clothing), and specific logistical support on the ground.

Photographer William Daniels spoke of his own preparations as a freelance photographer, of the need on such assignments for a good car, a good driver, a good hotel and good insurance—all of which cost money, and could usually be afforded only with a well-paid assignment from top media. He put the case for a global professional agreement to ensure media organizations paid the insurance for journalists in conflict zones. In the meantime, his advice to starting journalists was ‘be aware’, and not to take big risks for one picture. “It’s dangerously easy to get carried away by your own passion and sense of what is important at the time,” he said. “But the important thing is to think quietly, and assess each situation carefully.”

Discussion also focused on wider risks to journalists, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). AFP, for example, offers PTSD support after dangerous assignments and events, such as access to a private blog of other journalists’ experiences. Photographer Peter van Agtmael spoke from his own experience, saying that dealing with PTSD was not only about coping with traumatic memories, but becoming mindful of your own limits. “There is no shame in that,” he said. “You need to be smart and thoughtful, so you can still be working in a few years’ time.”